Time for Roger Federer to Make a Change Before He’s Past Tense

At some point, every great champion starts to get old, starts to lose it. He slows down a little, flinches some, loses belief. Rather than seeing that, you would almost rather he just left a little early.

I don’t want to feel sorry for Roger Federer. It makes me sick to my stomach. But Rafael Nadal crushed him Friday in Miami, 6-3, 6-2, and Federer’s game looked obsolete, his greatness past tense.

So that’s it? Federer, at 29, is old? Or maybe the gods just invented the perfect anti-Federer in Rafael Nadal. There also is my argument of choice:

Federer is never going to win another major championship with that antique racquet.

Friday’s match was the final convincing ground for holdouts in denial about Federer’s downward arrow. Nadal crushed him on a hard court. He is now better than Federer in every way, on every surface.

So which one is Federer’s problem? Age? Nadal? Equipment? Here is my answer:

Yes, yes, yes.

I’ve argued that Federer isn’t looking old yet. But on Friday, he was far slower than Nadal. That’s no crime. Almost everyone is. The gap, though, looked wider than ever.

It’s almost as if Nadal were built for counteracting Federer. As a left-hander, he can crush crosscourt forehands to easily attack Federer’s backhand. His heavy topspin bounces the ball up into the weak spot of Fed’s one-hander.

On top of that, Nadal is five years younger. And he takes advantage of modern racquet and string technology, giving him even more firepower and more spin to attack Federer.

Federer’s problems now work together in a group. But he can’t do anything about age and Nadal.

One thing he can, and must, do:

Get. Rid. Of. That. Old. Flexible. Wilson. Racquet.

NOW!

Federer got snippy after the match Friday, saying he was tired of people asking him, roughly, if he’s washed up. Who wouldn’t be? And while I lay into his problems here, he still is the third best player in the world.

But he would jump right back ahead of Novak Djokovic, who’s No. 2, if he would just modernize. If he doesn’t, then he’s just waiting for Juan Martin del Potro to fully get back from wrist surgery, and blow right past him, too.

I understand that Federer won a record number of majors with that racquet. Bjorn Borg won all his majors with a wood racquet, and when he tried, briefly, to come back, no one was using a tiny wood racquet anymore.

Borg tried anyway.

It didn’t work.

Remember Jimmy Connors’ last, great run through the U.S. Open? He was old. If he had still been using his old steel Wilson T-2000 racquet, then he wouldn’t have won three games. In fact, he would have already been off the tour.

Technology has its own generations, and they come faster now than ever. Thanks to super stiff racquets with super stiff polyester strings, players can swing as hard as they want and keep the ball on the court.

First time I put modern strings in a modern racquet, I felt as if I were cheating.

At the Australian Open, I asked Paul Annacone, Federer’s coach, whether technology was Federer’s problem. He said it was only one tiny piece of an issue. But later, he also said that people can now swing away and keep the ball in.

So supersized players – del Potro, Robin Soderling, Tomas Berdych – with modern technology in their hands are crushing the ball like never before and keeping it on the court.

Meanwhile, Federer stands back with a one-handed backhand, and a racquet flexing and giving. Those big guys have knocked him out of three of the past six majors.

You really think Soderling and Berdych are better than Federer? No way.

But the big guys push him backward. Meanwhile, Federer swings as hard as he can and still can’t hit the ball hard enough to get it past Nadal.

When he hired Annacone, who urged him to become more aggressive, that seemed to be a sign that Federer wasn’t in denial anymore. He was willing to advance with the times.

Apparently, he was only willing to go so far.

Maybe he just feels that racquets don’t make the player. Some people have argued that in baseball, steroids don’t hit the home runs. Players still have to connect bat to ball.

True enough, greatness still has to come from inside. But if you hit the bat to the ball AND are on steroids, then you will hit it harder and farther.

Why else were players juicing?

These modern racquets and strings are like playing on steroids.

I have asked Federer about it a few times, and he always gives the same, maddening answer: Technology isn’t the problem. Then, if you press him, he acknowledges that it is helping other players.

Why not let hit help him, too?

Federer isn’t driving toward anything, but rather fighting something off. He only has things to lose. And from here, his age is just going to show more.

But he’s only losing to a handful of players. With one quick move, he would distance himself from Soderling and Berdych, hold off del Potro a little longer, and be better than Djokovic again.

He still wouldn’t be as good as Nadal, though.

Technology can only do so much.

About gregcouch

I can talk tennis all day long, and often do. And yet some of the people I talk to about it might rather I talk about something else. Or with someone else. That’s how it is with tennis, right? Sort of an addiction. Sort of a high. I am a national columnist at FoxSports.com and a FoxSports1 TV insider, and have been a columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times. In 2010, I was the only American sports writer to cover the full two weeks of all four majors, and also to cover each of the U.S. Masters series events. I’ve seen a lot of tennis, talked with a lot of players, coaches, agents. I watched from a few rows behind the line judge as Serena rolled her foot onto the baseline for the footfault, a good call, at the 2009 U.S. Open. I sat forever watching a John Isner marathon, leaving for Wimbledon village to watch an England World Cup soccer game at a pub and then returning for hours of Isner, sitting a few feet from his wrecked coach. I got to see Novak Djokovic and Robin Soderling joke around on a practice court on the middle Sunday at Wimbledon, placing a small wager on a tiebreaker. Djokovic won, and Soderling pulled a bill out of his wallet, crumpled it into his fist and threw it at Djokovic, who unwadded it, kissed it, and told me, “My work is done here.’’ And when Rafael Nadal won the French Open in 2010, I finished my column, walked back out onto the court, and filled an empty tic tac container with the red clay. I’m looking at it right now. Well, I don’t always see the game the same way others do. I can be hard on tennis, particularly on the characters in suits running it. Tennis has no less scandal and dirt than any other game. Yet somehow, it seems to be covered up, usually from an incredible web of conflicts of interest. I promise to always tell the truth as I see it. Of course, I would appreciate it if you’d let me know when I’m wrong. I love sports arguments and hope to be in a few of them with you here. Personal info: One-handed backhand, serve-and-volleyer. View all posts by gregcouch

One response to “Time for Roger Federer to Make a Change Before He’s Past Tense

  • tennisnut

    My Friend, I share your concern… In my opinion, Roger is the best player that has ever lived. Raised the game of tennis to new heights. Hit balls in angles and from places on the court that are practically (and mentally) impossible for plain mortals like you and me. He pulls of sheer magic with a ball and a racket. And I also get sick in the stomach watching Roger loose lately. (Especially when he looses from Nole…)

    But let us remember London at the very end of 2010!!
    There he was: completely superior (!) to all those who stood on the other side of the net. Hitting his unbelievable shots, moving great, aggressive and forward playing. This is only 4 months ago! And his wins were highly convincing. Highly.

    Yes he can win slams. And ATP 1000’s. But he needs to match up with the level of phisical aggression present at Djock and Nadal.. So Let’s put the Olivia Newton John’s song on Roger’s iPod: Let’s get Phisical…Phisical.. And move your devine tennis feet Roger! And than your weapons will shine (again).

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